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McClatchy-Tribune  08/12/2014 7:20 PM ET
GNP CEO Helgeson announces retirement [St. Cloud Times, Minn. :: ]

Aug. 12--After almost a lifetime in the chicken business and 21 years as CEO of what is today GNP Company, Mike Helgeson on Tuesday announced his retirement effective Nov. 3.

Steve Jurek, who has been with the former Gold'n Plump organization for 37 years and is executive vice president of operations, will assume Helgeson's duties as president. He will have the same authority and responsibility Helgeson did as CEO and will report to Jason Logsdon, CEO of Maschoff Family Foods, which bought GNP late last year.

"After 40 years of being in the business full-time, after graduating from college in 1974, and also being CEO for 21 years, I thought the time was right for me to retire," said Helgeson, 62, whose first jobs around the company started when he was 10. "It's been very gratifying to be part of a company for all these years, thinking about how we're producing healthy food for consumers. We're part of a great industry and we also faced many challenges as well. What's gratifying is to see what our team has been able to accomplish."

Last December, a sale was completed that involved St. Cloud-based GNP Co. and its subsidiaries -- including three chicken-processing plants, two hatcheries and two feed mills -- transferring to The Maschhoffs LLC, a fifth-generation operation based in Carlyle, Ill.

The decision to retire was Helgeson's, and Logsdon said he wishes him "the absolute best" and commended him on "the strong company, leaders and team he is leaving behind."

Since becoming CEO in 1993, Helgeson helped guide the company his grandfather started in 1926 through its most expansive period. Employment has grown by more than 1,000 during his tenure, including the acquisition of operations in Arcadia, Wisconsin, and Luverne, to about 1,700 employees and 350 family farm partners today. During the same period, sales have tripled to more than $400 million annually.

"We almost tripled the size of that facility in Arcadia, Wisconsin," Helgeson said. "Its subsequent growth allowed us to get into the deli and food service business segments. The plant in Luverne allowed us to produce value-added products, and we were the first to introduced fixed-weight scannable chicken. That really revolutionized how chicken was merchandised."

GNP, which processes 100 million chickens each year, counts among its major partners Chipotle, Famous Dave's, Target and Wal-Mart.

Jurek, 63, grew up on a farm east of St. Cloud and graduated from Foley High School before earning a bachelor's degree from Metropolitan State University and a master's in business administration from the University of St. Thomas. He worked for Fingerhut before joining GNP in 1977. He has worked his way through a variety of positions before assuming his current role in 1997.

"It's a very family-friendly business with a culture of caring for people and the community," Jurek said. "It's a culture I want to be part of and keep going. We're looking at expansion opportunities. We're building an expansion to our distribution facilities in Cold Spring. We're also building a truck shop at the Cold Spring site as well. We are a growth company and we want to continue that -- growth of people and growth of our customer base."

Logsdon, who had the final decision on Jurek's selection, said his "breadth and depth of experience and leadership make him a strong successor," and that he is a "trusted leader within the organization and the poultry industry, with the business and people skills needed to thrive."

Tim Wensman, GNP's executive vice president of customer processes, will add responsibilities following Jurek's appointment. Wensman, who has been with the company for 34 years, currently oversees sales, marketing, product management and development and supply planning. He will also lead public relations and communications across the Maschoff Family Foods organization. Additional changes in leadership also are expected later this year.

Wensman will report to Jurek and both will participate in Maschoff Family Foods executive committee meetings.

"Both businesses have been on track to have a good year since the transaction in December," said Helgeson, who lives near St. Cloud with his wife, Karel, with whom he has two adult sons. "In terms of my connection with the company, I'll always be its strongest supporter. I'll be available to the company as a consultant on a limited basis for awhile. Other than that, I look forward to spending more time with family and friends and in travel and pursuing other activities I'd like to do."

For more, visit www.gnpcompanynews.com or www.goldnplump.com.

Follow Kevin Allenspach on Twitter @KevinAllenspach.

 

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